Retail Price: £1.99
Author: Mike Westlake
Merlin the magician has been absent-minded - and he's ended up searching the dank passageways of King Arthur's Camelot castle for his lost magical powers!
To reactivate his stock of skills that would leave Paul Daniels floundering, Merlin must collect the magic stars that lie in Camelot's horizontally-scrolling passages and rooms.
He can collect them merely by walking into them, but the positions of some are sure to test his agility, speed and ingenuity.
And Camelot is an ancient, strange and mysterious place. Bats, small ghosts and bewitched sweeping brooms occupy dark rooms, just waiting for Merlin to walk in...
Merlin's remaining life force is grimly displayed by an emerging gravestone at the bottom left of the screen, and he's got just ten lives to recover those lost powers - if he's ever to say another abracadabra again.
Joysticks: Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: large, colourful, but very slow and flickery
The eponymous Merlin is just too big! He just towers over everything else, and you get the feeling the sprite may fall over any second. And the screens are very cluttered, with small monsters and objects all over the place...
The collecting idea is old hat and boring, the title tune is very basic, but at least Merlin is nicety colourful - it you like stray blobs of colour chucked all over the screen.
Merlin isn't very original, a kind of latter-day Jet Set Willy without much of the fun. The gameplay itself is quite addictive, though I'm sure some of the rooms are impossible to complete. It's very fast-moving and requires a lot of precise joystick work- perhaps too much - but you're given plenty of lives to play with, and real progress can be made.
But don't be fooled by the screenshots on the inlay: the graphics are big, bold and colourful, with varied and interesting backdrops, but when the sprites start to move it's a different story. Glitches in the animation and a kind of 'transparency' afflict them - and because of this it's ludicrously easy to hide from ghosts.
So though there are lots of locations to explore, the simple idea doesn't hold long-term rewards - and the minimal instructions don't help much.
The blurb on the cassette inlay of Merlin is very concise. "Guide Merlin around the mystical kingdom of Camelot collecting stars to recover his lost magic powers." Personally I'd rather guide him down to the pub.
It's not that the game's boring: it is, but that's not really the point; it's that with just a bit 'more' bunged into it this game could be really quite good. Crumbs.
For those who know what I mean, I can only say that Mike Singleton's Dark Sceptre has met Mastertronics' Feud, but taken an overdose of budget sleeping pills. Where are the other players? Where's the BEEF!
For those who don't know what I mean, the graphics are big (big, big, big). Merlin himself is almost 32 feet tall (No he's not). Eerm, Merlin himself is almost half a screen high (that's better), and you guide him through the brightly coloured (ie Feudish) flick screen kingdom, avoiding contact with the 'nasties': ghosts that zwoing up and down; snakes that slither, wither, wivver and funny blobby things that sort of, er, bob. Collect the big yellow stars while trying not to lose your ten lives. Uuuuumm... and that's it. It's not even as if the 'magic stars' give you extra powers which will help you in your quest. No Feud spell casting here, matey. Not on your wibble-stick.
Merlin, the game, loses in prolonged playability what it makes up for in graphics. With just that bit extra it could have been fine. (Mind you, maybe Firebird ran out of memory space: I actually lived my whole life, died, and was reincarnated as me again while the game was still loading). I'll base my score on the fact that, a) Merlin is only £1.99 and b) it would be nicer to potter around Camelot armed with some invulnerability pokes. Boing.
While Merlin is a dead standard multi-screen jumping-and-ducking effort, for £1 99 it's worth getting just for the novelty of the giant-sized graphics.
Guiding Merlin the wizard around the magic Castle Camelot is made difficult by the hordes of brain-sucking starfish, enchanted books, wiggling ghosts and wriggly snakes. A disintegrating cross indicated your falling life-force as you collide with the nasties, and all you can do is jump over them or duck under them, no mean feat since the Merlin figure is one of the biggest sprites I've ever seen! The backgrounds are beautifully detailed, with suits of armour, bookcases, stairways, battlements and cellars depicted in painstaking detail. The colours are great too, but this unfortunately leads to lots of attribute clash when Merlin walks past the larger objects.
Since you don't have to do anything with the stars, and you can't shoot the nasties, the charm of the game might pall fairly quickly; but it looks pretty, and I suppose that's as good a reason as any for forking out your £1.99
Author: Mike Westlake
Reviewer: Chris Jenkins
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